Post-processing my experience being a "mentor" at the BAVC Producers Institute in San Francisco last week, I've been realizing some of the unique aspects of my own personal journey and how that has shaped me into the odd amalgamation of activist / technologist / educator/ dancer/ Quaker etc. This past week has helped me to appreciate my own unique perspective in a way that I never have before.
What I now see is that while I have fairly thin expertise in any given field, I have a broad enough understanding of very disparate subjects that I am able to see links between them in ways that are less obvious to others. And I'm fairly articulate at communicating those linkages. As my lifecoach says, I'm a "Connector."
To briefly recap, the BAVC Producers Institute is one of these cool multi-disciplinary events that brings together people from different fields, let's them discuss how their areas intersect, and come up with concrete ways of mashing up these different approaches to create something new and innovative. Several of the Producers Institute participants remarked about how valuable my input was into their own projects, even people I have fairly brief interactions with. I found this surprising given the significant expertise of the other participants that I found so impressive. What did I bring to the table that could compare with a veteran documentarian, an award winning machinimatographer, or a renowned game designer?
What I realized was that my input was valuable not because of the depth of my knowledge in a given subject, but the range of knowledge I had across fields, my ability to see the linkages between them, and apply that to a particular project in a useful way. I.e. I can connect how human rights activists work in the field with how viral media propogates, how educators work with young people, and how citizens pressure their representatives to effect public policy. And I can see how all of that might be relevant for a specific project to develop a website on sustainable agriculture.
In effect, my whole life has prepared me for this.
For most of my career, I have lamented the fact that I somehow lack the discipline to develop deep expertise in the field I am working in, whether that is international law, web development, or telecom policy. My mind constantly spins, craves exposure to a whole lot of diverse inputs. My body wants to be in several places at once. I'm a wanderer.
What this has meant is that I have had a very strange mix of jobs and experiences over the years. Just a few of the weirder ones:
- Head of NGO communications at the International Criminal Court treaty conference
- 911 police dispatcher in LA
- Co-organizer of the first major anti-war protest in Second Life
- Host of the longest running podcast on lindy hop and swing dance
- Manager of a $100K grants program for media scholars and activists
- Membership director for a 50-year old peace organization
- Database programmer for a refugee asylum center in El Paso
- Producer for an award-winning machinima team
Individually, none of these stand out as major accomplishments. But cumulatively, they have molded me into someone with a somewhat ridiculous range of influences and perspectives on the world. In my 40 years on this planet, I've done a lot of stuff, seen a lot of things. And I think a lot about how those various areas speak to each other.
All this together makes me someone who is useful to have at the table when you need to be connecting a wide range of fields all at once.
[CC-licensed image "Switchboard" by jwgreen]